Tales of London #15
If nothing else came from it, Jenna thought, at least she wouldn’t have to get back on the Tube. Montgomery offered to drive them there.
‘This is your car?’ Jenna said, staring at the thing. It was small, old, weirdly angled and faded in colour. Could have been red once, back in the day when Jenna was a child.
Robert opened the driver side’s door, leaned in and over and undid the lock for the other door. Jenna opened it.
‘I don’t know, I was expecting something… Modern and flashy. You know, big and elegant, unreasonably expensive…’
Robert closed the door and fastened his seatbelt.
‘I bought this car with my own money. I worked through university, tutored high schoolers, took shifts in the university’s library, did research for professors who didn’t have the time… They all paid amazingly badly, so I ended up with this car. I decide twice a week on average to buy something better, something that is better for the environment, but… I just wanted something that is mine and mine alone, you know? Something that has never been my father’s. So I bought this silly little car and eventually it grew on me.’
Jenna nodded. She never felt the urge of having a car, at least never longer than five minutes, but she could totally understand that part with Robert’s father. The engine got stuck three times before it coughed itself alive.
Being this close, together in a car, was weird. There was nowhere to go, no place to hide. Jenna was watching the evening traffic for a while, looking anywhere but at the man beside her.
‘So, what should I know about ghouls?’ Robert asked after an awkward five minutes. ‘You know, so I don’t die.’
'First of all, don't let them eat you,' she said.
'Noted. What else?'
'Okay, so… They live in cemeteries, sometimes around hospitals and of course they are regulars at battlefields. They are mostly necrophagous, but they will kill when they are hungry enough. They aren't afraid of humans at all, but for some reason they hate foxes. Fuck knows why. Anyway, their vision is different from ours, moonlight is ideal for them. Oh, and they can dig very, very fast, the earth is almost like water to them, so always try and lure them to concrete or cobblestone ground where they cannot dig. If they surround you on soft ground, you are dead.'
‘Cheerful fellas, them,’ Robert said.
‘You can always change your mind,’ Jenna reminded him. ‘This is not an easy job.’
‘Definitely not. But I promised you company, so I’m going. How intelligent a ghoul is?’
The line of cars inched forward. People used the horn so frequently as if they would believe it would make any difference.
‘Not particularly, but we aren’t gonna play chess with them anyway. Don’t underestimate them! They are fast and freakishly strong. Also, they don't feel pain. They won't stop just because they are injured. In fact, even if you cut them open or squish them under something heavy, as long as they are mostly intact, they might come back to life eventually. There are two ways to destroy a ghoul for good: cut or blow off their heads or incapacitate them and burn them to ashes. Anything else, they might survive and heal from. Even from a headshot, or so I’ve heard.’
‘Hold on,’ Robert said. ‘How can they heal? Aren’t they undead?’
Another few inches. As nice as it was not being cuddled up to strangers on a train, this took ages. The ghouls will die of old age by the time they get there, Jenna thought.
‘They… It’s complicated. It involves freaky Frankenstein-style things and fresh flesh from recently dead people… Let’s just say they have their ways.’
‘Charming,’ Robert shook his head.
The journey took another hour. At some point, Jenna tried to switch the heating on, but it turned out to be broken, so she had to magic some warmth in the car. At least the radio worked, so they could listen to music they didn’t enjoy until Jenna found a station that played old rock songs. That worked for the both of them, which surprised Jenna: she thought Montgomery was the type who listened to opera and Beethoven in a casual mood.
North Acton Cemetery was in the middle of nowhere, between a vast area spotted with factories, stores and warehouses and some art school that Robert stared at longingly for a second.
'Cemetery is that way,' Jenna said after she consulted the map on her phone. They left the car a little further behind: even here, in the outer rim of London, it was hard to find a parking spot.
When Jenna looked up to the dark sky to check if the full moon was out yet, she saw stars. They were so far away from the City that there were actual stars in the sky. And the moon was up, half hiding behind a raggedy cloud. The cold wind howled between the buildings and she shivered.
'Delightful,' Robert noted. He had his walking stick now, with his old, grey coat: they were in his car.
'Lost your nerve, Professor?' she teased him.
Robert smiled but Jenna saw that he tightened the grip on his cane. Good. She would have been much more anxious to face the ghouls if Robert wasn’t afraid of them. Being overly confident shortened a demon hunter’s life expectancy dramatically.
The cemetery was huge. They have been walking by the tall wall of it for minutes when Jenna realised that this was it, this was the place they were heading. A two-winged, wrought iron gate was the first entrance they found. A padlock with a glowing Rune on it kept the gates closed.
‘Got the key?’ Robert asked.
'Sort of,' she answered, and put her forefinger on the padlock. The Rune died out and the lock opened with a very loud click. 'You have a key for everything as long as you are stronger than the one who locked the door.'
'The Commissioner would love that thought… ‘
'Relax, Montgomery. You are such a buzzkill. And my office has permission to get in here. Probably,' and with that, she cracked the gate open and slipped through the gap. Robert followed her and closed the door behind them.
‘It’s not like I’m half-convinced that I’m gonna die, but on the off chance I would, what would be your reaction if I kissed you first?’
Jenna glanced over at him. She wasn’t exactly surprised, nor could have said that she haven’t toyed with the idea before. Funny what thoughts fear and adrenaline can bring up.
‘I’d curse you,’ she said.
Robert gave some thought to that.
‘How badly?’ he asked.
‘Come and find out,’ she grinned.
Robert touched his crooked nose and shook his head.
‘Maybe later,’ he mumbled.
‘Coward,’ Jenna rolled her eyes.
There were no street lamps in the cemetery. A wide, concrete main road led to a chapel, and from it spread out several cobblestoned footpaths, like veins in the human body. The chapel was a big one with two wings and a bell tower over the entrance. It looked at least a couple of hundred years old. The graves around were silent and still, as they should be, and even the wind stopped to howl. The pale moonlight was only enough to see silhouettes and make one wonder if that particular shadow moved or not.
'Shall we brighten up the place a bit?' Robert asked, lifting his cane. Jenna seized his wrist.
'They won't come out if there is light, it blinds them,' she whispered. 'In fact, let's look like some idiots just having a date. You know, easy snacks.' she put Robert's arm around her waist and then leaned against him, putting her head on his shoulder. The man scoffed.
'You just made this whole thing up so I will hug you,' he accused her.
'Like I need to do anything but ask for it,' she smiled nicely.
'Fair enough,' Robert nodded. Jenna felt his hand slowly going south from her waist.
'The hell are you doing, Montgomery?' she asked.
Now Jenna was the one who scoffed.
'I appreciate your enthusiasm, but let's focus,' she said in a serious voice.
'I am focusing. Two of them are following us already, maybe three. I assume there are more ahead.'
'Yes, probably under that willow, in the shadows. Also, see those gargoyles on the tower?
'Let me guess. Those aren't gargoyles,' he said.
'Yepp, they are not. This is an unusually big nest. Never seen more than four together before.'
'I am happy that I can be eaten by the biggest ghoul colony anyone ever saw,' Robert said grimly. 'It's an honour.'
They continued to moon slowly towards the chapel. The slight smell of rotten flesh got stronger as the ghouls crept closer, sneaking from one gravestone to another. Up on the tower of the chapel, shadows were undoubtedly moving now.
'Your hand is still on my ass.'
'Oh, my bad,' he said and moved his hand back to the girl's waist. 'So, what do we do? I reckon it is too late to turn back now.'
Jenna stopped and faced Robert, then hugged him, pushing her face against his chest. She could hear the fast heartbeat and knew that this time it wasn't for her. Robert put his arms around her, holding her tight.
'Are you ready?' Jenna asked, looking up. Her lips were so close to Robert's that they almost touched.
'Can I kiss you now?'
'Don't die and we will see,' she said quietly.
'Let's get this over with, then' he answered with a smug little smile.
They moved in perfect synchrony as if years of fighting against each other was only a long training for the moment when they are finally on the same side. Robert's first spell made the closest ghoul unable to move. They had exactly one second to look at the sickly skinny human-like figure with its bald head, greyish skin, short, dirty claws and broken teeth before the bench Jenna tore out from the ground hit it hard. The ghoul disappeared in the darkness between the graves.
The second one came with inhuman speed, running on all fours, but the very ground under its feet grabbed it, breaking its limbs with a loud, disgusting crack. Then a spike emerged made out of concrete, impaling its head, and that was it. While Robert did that, Jenna got herself busy with the ones attacking from behind. They looked a little different, slightly bigger and slower with a hint of choked-to-death-shade blue on their skin. Jenna broke the chapel's colourful rose-shaped window and killed the first ghoul with the pieces, cutting it to shreds. The second one got torn apart by the shadow hound mid-air, but the third slipped, avoiding the rest of the glass shards, pushing the woman aside, and jumped on Robert, who just finished with his second attacker.
Jenna wanted to do something but crashed into another ghoul, which grabbed her shoulder and tried to bite her throat. Ghouls didn't have testicles to kick and even if they had, they didn't feel pain. It was a huge problem because Jenna needed to get away from it quickly so she can aim and use some serious spell without injuring herself, but couldn't make the monster back down.
Then a ray of pure, white light hit it at the head, entering at one temple and leaving at the other, thanks to Montgomery, who found the time to look after her even with a ghoul on his back. That fancy trench coat of his must have had a ton of defending charms sewn into it, as it was able to hold back the ghoul's teeth and claws.
Jenna's hound finished off another creep, jumped and bit the ghoul on Robert's back, tearing it down with brute force. The dog threw it away and it was mostly dead before it hit the ground, finger-long teeth impaling its brain. Robert turned around, drew a thin sword from his cane, and decapitated another ghoul with one swift movement.
Two more monsters arrived, but they misread the situation and attacked the dog. They didn't stand a chance, as the dog was made out of magic and shadows. But then something out of nowhere hit Jenna in the ribs, and she stumbled over her own legs, falling with a painful cry. The shadow hound disappeared, leaving the two ghouls alone and confused. That didn't last long, as they noticed the easy target, laying on the ground already. The fastest one lept and bounced off an invisible wall that Jenna did not make, and charged again, nonetheless. The other was smarter and turned to Robert instead, who had to dodge some flying rocks too, which came from the darkness. Jenna didn't bother with magic, she just took out a butterfly knife from her jacket and opened it up with two quick movements. The blade found the ghoul's eye and didn't stop up until its brain, scrambling it. Something poured all over Jenna's hand. She wiped it on her jeans with a disgusted grimace.
In the meantime, Robert tried to kill the other freak, but it was a stubborn bastard, and wouldn't give up even with its insides slowly pouring out through a big cut. Jenna threw a handful of spikes made out of the stone of the ground into its face at the very moment a rock struck Robert at his shoulder, making him lurch. The ghoul survived the spikes and stepped forward to attack again, with half of its face missing, just to end up on Montgomery's blade. As it fell, the sword stuck in its skull, taking it away from Robert, who was hit by yet another rock. That one punched him in the middle of his chest, and he tripped over a dead body, falling on his back.
'Shit,' Jenna said and made half a dozen shining balls. They flew all over the place, and found the rock-throwing jerk, hiding behind a gravestone. Another rock came, missing her head by millimetres. Robert was on his feet again, blood on his face, coat flying, and a spare wand in his hand glowing with Runes. A gravestone, flying fast and hitting hard, ended the last ghoul. Jenna could hear the bang long after its last echoes died.
There was silence, though Jenna could swore that her heartbeats were loud enough to fill it. The whole battle, as desperate and brutal as it was, didn't last much longer than a minute.
Robert offered his hand and Jenna accepted it, leaping to her feet. Didn't even lose her swing, bumped into the man, put her arms around his neck and kissed him. Robert hesitated for a second, then hugged her, even tighter than before the fight, and kissed her back. Jenna didn't think, she just wanted to feel the man, to feel anything that wasn’t the cold touch of a half-dead creature, that wasn’t rotten teeth tearing up her skin.
They didn't see it coming. Robert might have heard something because even lost in the kiss, he somehow managed to put up some barrier with the wand he still had, but it was only enough to slow down the flying bench. It still knocked both of them down, and Jenna hit her head on the cobblestones, so hard that she only felt a second of sharp pain then darkness came.
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